Feb 4, 2020 | 4 min read

Digital Industry Insight #7: Asking the Right Questions

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.” – W. Edward Deming

Too often, enterprise digital transformation discussions begin with the following question: “How can we use such and such technology to transform our business?”. This enquiry is akin to visiting your local gym, pointing to an exercise machine, and asking: “How can I use that to get in shape?”. You might gain some benefit from that specific apparatus, but it’s not likely to help you achieve all desired goals. You may even risk injury if the equipment used was not designed to meet your objectives. The question that should, however, be asked is: “How do I get in shape without injuring myself using the available equipment?”. This question considers an individual’s unique needs rather than detrimentally generalizing.

For industrial and infrastructure organizations looking to embark on their own digital transformation journey, starting the process by asking the right questions is essential. These questions enable an organization to properly assess its specific requirements and limitations, better positioning it for success. Examples of the kinds of questions to ask include:

  • How can I transform my business to achieve sustainable competitive advantage using digital technology?
  • How is digital technology going to change my industry and how do I need to prepare?
  • How do I make the transition to Digital Industry without impairing my existing businesses?

As you explore those answers, you will find that additional questions emerge, such as:

  • How will digital transformation change the organization? What kinds of dislocations will it create?
  • How will it alter how decisions are made and who makes them?
  • How will it impact my relationships with my suppliers, distributors, customers, and other players in my value chain?

The answers to the above questions become the basis of your digital transformation journey and will be unique to your organization. They will vary by industry subsector, value chain position, and the existing state of digital transformation within the subsector. In industries where new entrants – like Amazon in retail and Netflix in media – are forcing the pace of change, the answers are relatively clear, and the choices are increasingly stark. In contrast, digital transformation in the industrial and infrastructure sectors is so nascent that the answers to these questions are largely opaque with potential options more open ended.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" – Famous Chinese proverb

It is not, however, an option to avoid the questions altogether. Industrial transformation as a result of rapid data growth, the ability to instantaneously share that data, and the capabilities inherent in emerging analytical tools such as AI and machine learning, will come on quickly. The key to success is to start moving forward now while acknowledging that any significant journey will involve many detours and course changes. Furthermore, the aforementioned questions are not meant to be answered once and then forgotten, rather, they should be asked repeatedly as your digital transformation progresses. The process of persistent and honest organizational reevaluation is far from easy but will significantly increase the odds of success.

Returning to the gym analogy, for most people, the best way to figure out the necessary steps to getting in shape is to enlist the services of a trainer. A trainer assesses the client’s current physical condition, helps create a plan, and ultimately works with the client to achieve established goals. They know how to continually and correctly question while concurrently interpreting answers. Likewise, most industrial and infrastructure organizations would benefit from having an experienced “trainer” to help them regularly ask the right questions and analyze the answers. An impartial, third party perspective is required to sidestep inevitable organizational biases. This will ensure that actions and solutions stem from objectively evaluated questions and answers at every phase of the Digital Industry Journey.

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we were at when we created them…” – Albert Einstein



Momenta Partners encompasses leading Strategic Advisory, Talent, and Venture practices. We’re the guiding hand behind leading industrials’ IoT strategies, over 200 IoT leadership placements, and 25+ young IoT disruptors.  Schedule  a free consultation to learn more about our Connected Industry practice.